Last Monday I started looking at the offseasons for the other NFC North teams. Did each team address their team's weaknesses? Did any team break up a strong unit?
Chicago. They almost had a .500 record (7-9) but the record masked a poor season. The other two NFC teams with 7-9 records, San Francisco and Tampa Bay, both outscored their opponents during the season, but Chicago was outscored by 63 points. Footballoutsiders.com ranked Chicago 25th between 4-12 Oakland and 5-11 Atlanta. No unit on Chicago could be considered a strength, although their run defense was solid and their special teams led by K Paul Edinger and P Brad Maynard was above average.
Chicago did address some weaknesses. Their biggest weakness last season was the terrible, eye covering performance by QB Kordell Stewart, and Chicago immediately improved the position by dumping Stewart. QB Rex Grossman didn't show much last season (QB rating 74.8 and completion rate of 52.8%) but it was a small sample size and there is no where to go but up from Stewart. Footballoutsiders.com rated Chicago's offensive line as one of the worst in the NFL (26th vs. run and 27th vs. pass) and Chicago spent $14 million in a signing bonus to acquire OT John Tait. Interestingly, Chicago signed OG Ruben Brown from Buffalo, who has been to many Pro Bowls but has long been regarded as overrated, while Buffalo signed ex-Chicago OG Chris Villarrial, essentially trading guards. Brown might have been a salary cap victim in Buffalo, but maybe Buffalo actually preferred Villarrial.
Chicago failed to address a couple of problem areas. Chicago created only 18 sacks last season, the same number of sacks as were recorded by DE Michael Strahan in 2003. Chicago used their top two picks on defensive tackles Tommie Harris and Terry Johnson, but rookie defensive tackles rarely record many sacks, but maybe their presense can help 2nd year DE Michael Haynes. Chicago had little production from their receivers, only WR Marty Booker (along with seldom used but now third WR Justin Gage) generated a positive ranking on footballoutsiders.com, but the entire group of receivers is due for improvement with the upgrade at quarterback (aka dumping Stewart).
Although Chicago didn't really have any strengths to break up, they tried nonetheless to weaken units that played better than average last season. Runstopping DT Keith Traylor left in free agency from the 11th best run defense (footballoutsiders.com ranking), but his loss could be offset by the rookies Harris and Johnson. RB Anthony Thomas had a good rebound 2003 from a slumping sophomore 2002 season, Thomas was ranked by footballoutsiders.com in 2003 between Charlie Garner and Travis Henry, and he establishd himself as a solid second-tier running back. So the first signing in free agency for Chicago is RB Thomas Jones to replace Thomas. Jones was given an opportunity in Tampa Bay in 2003 after it was obvious Tampa Bay was out of the playoffs, and Jones actually showed some signs of life compared to absolutely nothing in his first three NFL seasons in Arizona. However, Jones couldn't beat out RB Michael Pittman for the first three quarters of the 2003 season, and Pittman's ranking by footballoutsiders.com is similar to Thomas. In the end, Jones will probably lose the starting job to Thomas in the preseason and wind up as the 3rd down running back.